Two agonising own goals — the second, most painfully from QPR’s point of view, coming in the fifth minute of added time — ensured Liverpool secured a much needed three points but victory barely disguised the deficiencies in Brendan Rodgers’s team.
Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker were the fall-guys, with Dunne’s sliced attempted clearance gifting Liverpool an undeserved 68th lead and Caulker’s unfortunate error capping a dizzying burst of four goals in the game’s final eight minutes.
Harry Redknapp rightly reflected his side had been hard done by after twice equalising through substitute Eduardo Vargas.
In Raheem Sterling, though, Liverpool possessed a player who was clearly unaffected by the controversy surrounding his fitness for England last week and capable of injecting spark into the most stuttering of performances.
Having claimed he was too tired to play ahead of his country’s Euro 2016 qualifier in Estonia, the midfielder was a constant source of energy and inspiration for his club and was involved in all three of his side’s goals, the two own goals sandwiched either side of Philippe Coutinho’s effort.
England coach Roy Hodgson, who revealed the player had requested to be rested while on international duty, looked on as Sterling made the difference, helping to mask a frustratingly inept display from Mario Balotelli that was capped by a woeful miss in front of an open goal.
Watching Real Madrid scouts will report the threat of Sterling. They will also point out that apart from the winger’s threat, Liverpool look anything but intimidating up front.
With Daniel Sturridge out for another month with a calf problem and Luis Suarez now preparing to make his belated Barcelona debut, Rodgers is reliant on Balotelli and Rickie Lambert — bewilderingly left on the bench for 90 minutes yesterday — to lead his attack.
Entrusted with the responsibility at Loftus Road, the Italian fluffed his lines spectacularly, prompting the manager to plead for patience.
“I like to win and I like to win in the way we play and train every day,” said Rodgers. “That was not the case today. But the players showed remarkable courage to keep going and coming back after they came back at us.
“It’s not rocket science. We have lost 75% of our goals from last season and it takes time to bring new players in. There is no magic wand. We will improve over time but until that happens, we just have to try and win games.”
Sterling certainly helped ensure Liverpool succeeded in that respect. The winger’s quick thinking meant Rangers were caught out at a free-kick, allowing Glen Johnson to drill in a low free-kick that Dunne turned into his own net. He then led the break that was finished by Coutinho’s excellent run and finish in the 90th minute after Vargas had equalised three minutes earlier with a close range volley.
Then, with the home side back in it after Vargas headed in at the near post from Leroy Fer’s corner in the first minute of added time, Sterling again found himself leading a break before squaring a low cross that Caulker directed into his own net before it could reach Balotelli.
“Raheem was outstanding,” added Rodgers, before revealing he had not spoken to Hodgson at the game although he was adamant there was no rift between the pair.
Redknapp, who insisted before the game there was no doubt surrounding his future despite Rangers’ desperate start to the season, was crestfallen. Leroy Fer struck the woodwork twice in the first half yet, while the home side had plenty of chances, the manager acknowledged they were responsible for their own downfall, particularly in the way they left themselves vulnerable to a break in the final minute.
“We were naive,” he said. “We should have just had a shot, hit it into the crowd. You don’t always get what you deserve in life and we certainly didn’t today. It was an absolute injustice.”
Redknapp remains confident he can steer the club away from the foot of the table, although it is clear Adel Taarabt is unlikely to feature any time soon.
“He’s not fit enough to play,” said Redknapp. “He played in a practice match the other day and I could have run more. I want players who want to come in, train hard and work hard and play for QPR. Ninety-nine percent of the players are great and working hard. I can only think of one who isn’t.”
He added: “We only had 12 players two weeks before the season and it takes time to get everyone up to pace. But I’ve got no doubts we will be okay.”
QPR (4-4-2): McCarthy 6; Onuoha 6 (Phillips 46, 6), Caulker 8, Dunne 7, Yun 7; Isla 6, Henry 7, Sandro 7 (Traore 60, 6), Fer 6; Zamora 8 (Vargas 79, 6), Austin 6.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Mignolet 8; Johnson 5, Lovren 6, Skrtel 7, Enrique 5; Can 6 (Allen 66, 6), Henderson 6; Sterling 9, Gerrard 7, Lallana 6 (Coutinho 66,7); Balotelli 4.
Referee: Phil Dowd.